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Succeeding in postgraduate study
Succeeding in postgraduate study

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3 Intensity, workload and study style

Two key differences between postgraduate and undergraduate study, namely (i) study intensity and (ii) workload, are frequently remarked on by students who embark on a Master’s course for the first time. Studying at Master’s level is more intense than at undergraduate level. To illustrate this, whereas a student on a full-time undergraduate degree programme (360 credits over 3 years) would typically be expected to complete 120 credits each year, an ‘equivalent’ full-time Master’s degree student would be expected to study 180 credits over the same period (if studying a one-year full-time Master’s degree). This probably means also having to adopt a more flexible approach to studying, which may require you to work through some holidays.

At Master’s level you should expect to be guided less and to think more for yourself than you may have previously been used to. Generally speaking the assignments at this level are also more stringently assessed and scored. What may have been considered excellent, in terms of scholarship, structure and coherence at undergraduate level could well be judged as the standard expected for a ‘good pass’ at Master’s level.

The step up in intensity, heavier workload, and difference in study style (which is far more student-led) mean that you will be expected to take greater responsibility for planning, monitoring and managing your time, and have control over your own studies. This greater sense of autonomy may be daunting at first, and seem quite a contrast from your undergraduate study experience (with its instructor/tutor-led emphasis, and heavier reliance on provided course materials), but it will help you to develop the fundamental skills expected at this level and, importantly, offer you the opportunity to diversify, develop your interests and to specialise in the process.

Remember that you are not alone in your studies – other students on your course are also there because of shared interests and enthusiasm for the subject. Generally speaking postgraduate students are more focused, attentive and inquisitive. The smaller group sizes on a postgraduate course, the specialist subject area, personal and professional interests of students taking the course, and the closer academic and research interests of tutors, help to foster a sense of mutual interest, of ‘collaboration’ and ‘community’, which can provide a positive, rewarding and inspiring learning environment.